Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Digital downloads and Armageddon

My major remaining objection to digital audio, once high-resolution recordings became available, was based on the error-prone process of reading data from optical discs. (If you think that error correction on the fly is perfect, why then the big deal over "ripping" CDs to hard drives without errors?)  I expressed a preference for DSD over PCM because DSD is less sensitive to errors.  However, now that digital audio downloads via the internet are widely available, and because the internet is capable of providing bit-perfect copies, my objection to PCM as a source is no longer valid.

So, digital audio has for all practical purposes been perfected in the form of high-resolution recordings downloaded over the internet.  In my opinion, analog holdouts are in it for the money.  There's a lot of money to be made trying to get all the music off of LPs.  For example, Goldmund makes a $300K turntable which has a preamp in the headshell and a 500-pound stand.  I'd like to see how it compares to an iPod and a good DAC playing an "equivalent" high-res recording in a double-blind listening test.

While working in Burr-Brown's data-converter design group in the late 1970's (when 16-bit linearity was the holy grail), I joked that digital audio would be perfected just before the "end of the world," based on the assumption that man is not meant to have "perfect sound forever."  Well, digital audio has been essentially perfected, and lo and behold, the British empire and its media are pulling out all the stops to instigate "Armageddon." If only we had learned to live with LPs, 15 bits, and 20KHz brick-wall filters, the British empire would have magically gone away, and we could have had NAWAPA, maglev, colonies on other planets, and a lot more orchestras and live performances.  Damn!